On this episode of the Digital Campus podcast we wrestle with how to keep open access/open source educational resources and tools sustainable for the long run. Mills elaborates on some of his ideas about a “freemium” business model for higher ed, and Tom and I explain the dilemma from the perspective of large academic software projects. We also debate whether laptops are a distraction in the classroom, among other topics in the news roundup and picks of the week. [Subscribe to this podcast.]
Take a look at this list of free and open textbooks. (Found this page a couple of clicks away from a helpful post at Peter Suber’s Open Access News.) Now note the stark imbalance between the number of science textbooks listed here and the number of humanities textbooks. Why is this?
It seems to me like there is a great opportunity here for funders, with potentially an incredible return on investment. Texas alone spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on textbooks like the U.S. History survey. For less than a million dollars a high-quality free and open textbook could be produced, with print on demand producing paper copies where needed and with a slight markup on those printed versions possibly covering ongoing expenses for updating the work.
[Creative Commons image credit.]
This week on the podcast we look at the merits of print on demand, and investigate whether it can have an impact on academia. The podcast includes a wide-ranging interview with Yakov Shafranovich, a software developer who specializes in print on demand services including PublicDomainReprints.org, covered in several prior Digital Campus episodes. We also debate the importance of Harvard’s move toward open access to its faculty’s scholarship.
On the day that Harvard’s faculty votes on a strong open access proposal (I’m still looking for the actual text of the proposal; please add a link in the comments if you are aware of it), here are a few of the better arguments this week about the open access movement:
- danah boyd (perhaps unsurprisingly, but still bravely) decides to go 100% open access with all of her future publications, and encourages other academics to do the same.
- Robert Darnton argues in favor of the proposal in the Harvard Crimson, and highlights the importance of this being “opt-out” rather than “opt-in.” (Which, as companies from Visa to Facebook well know, means the policy will lead to much higher rates of acceptance than the opt-in provisions that are common with institutional repositories at universities right now.)
- Stan Katz worries about the financial impact of open access on humanities and social science professional societies and non-profit publishers, which are not printing money like the science publishers are.
- Don Waters wishes to complicate the partisan debate over open access by examining the greater context of scholarly communications, the differences between publishing in various fields, concerns over sustainability, and trends in education.
Are open educational resources such as iTunes U and thought-provoking dot-coms such as BigThink.com a distraction from the mission of professors and universities, or the wave of the future? We debate the merits of “open access” intellectual content in the feature story on our twentieth Digital Campus podcast. Also, I report on the mostly good (if a little odd) experience of buying a book from PublicDomainReprints.org, and we discuss the MacBook Air, Flickr Commons, and a variety of tools for manipulating RSS feeds.
This month’s First Monday has one of the most pragmatic, sensible articles I’ve read about the promise and perils of open access books. In “Open access book publishing in writing studies: A case study,” by Charles Bazerman, David Blakesley, Mike Palmquist, and David Russell, the authors describe their experience deciding to eschew a traditional publication arrangement with an academic press (what supposedly gives our monographs the sheen of value and gets us tenure). Instead they publish an edited volume straight to the web.
Along the way the authors discover that many of the concerns that humanities scholars have about publishing in a free and open way are either overblown or simply myths. Only one junior scholar (out of the 20 scholars asked to contribute) worries about promotion and tenure. And indeed all of the scholars who contribute to the edited volume receive credit for their chapters. More important, the editors and contributors are surprised to discover that the book makes its way rapidly and powerfully into the consciousness of their field:
[The] initial reaction [to the book] did not prepare us for the acceptance the book ultimately received from the academic communities to which it was addressed.
Since its publication, the Writing Selves/Writing Societies Web page has been visited more than 85,000 times by more than 36,000 unique visitors. The trend, interestingly, has been a steady increase in visits over the past four years, with more than 30,000 occurring in the past 12 months. Since its publication, the book has been downloaded in its entirety more than 36,000 times. Individual essays have been downloaded more than 108,000 times. In terms of perceived quality of the scholarly work in the collection, the book has been well received by the field. Within six months of publication, the book was positively reviewed by four journals: two print and two electronic. One year after its publication, in the keynote address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the major annual conference in writing studies, Kathleen Blake Yancey quoted extensively from chapters in the book. And the book has continued to figure prominently in scholarly work subsequently published in the field of composition and rhetoric.
According to a search of Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly publications available on the Web (29 September 2006), the book or individual chapters in it has been cited 68 times, according to a search of Google Scholar. Although we do not have comprehensive comparison data for print publications, we suspect that this is a higher rate. A print–only collection with about the same number of chapters (15) published in the same year as Writing Selves/Writing Societies (and winner of a best book award given by a leading journal in the field), had far fewer citations: 10. Our experience suggests that open access scholarly books follow a pattern of citation similar to journals, which indicate that open access journal articles in a wide range of fields are both more likely to be cited and likely to be cited more quickly. Our experience with Writing Selves/Writing Societies supports this…
Overall, Writing Selves/Writing Societies appears to have entered into the system of book publishing neatly, in spite of the fact that it was not published by a traditional academic publisher and was being offered at no charge.
Beyond the questions of business models, scholarly influence, and promotion and tenure, there is also the nagging question Roy Rosenzweig posed in “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?” At the time Roy was the Vice President for Research at the American Historical Association, and was pushing for open access to the American Historical Review. (Ultimately he got the powers that be to agree to put AHR articles online for free, although the book reviews remain behind gates.)
Besides the ethical good of publishing in an open access model—sharing educational and scholarly materials—Roy noted that the work of most scholars is funded, directly or indirectly, by the public. Noting the National Institutes of Health‘s recent mandate that grantees share their work openly with the public, Roy wrote:
The new policy affects few historians, but its implications ought to give us serious pause. After all, historical research also benefits directly (albeit considerably less generously) through grants from federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities; even more of us are on the payroll of state universities, where research support makes it possible for us to write our books and articles. If we extend the notion of “public funding” to private universities and foundations (who are, of course, major beneficiaries of the federal tax codes), it can be argued that public support underwrites almost all historical scholarship.
Do the fruits of this publicly supported scholarship belong to the public? Should the public have free access to it?
Roy, of course, thought this meant that like NIH grantees we should provide open access to our articles, such as those in the AHR. But doesn’t the same argument hold true for books?
[Postscript: Some scientists have been wondering the same thing.]
Bill Turkel, the always creative mind behind Digital History Hacks (logrolling disclosure: Bill is a friend of CHNM, a collaborator on various fronts, and was the thought-provoking guest on Digital Campus #9; still, he deserves the compliments), and his colleague at the University of Western Ontario, Alan MacEachern, are planning to write a book entitled The Programming Historian. Better yet, the book will be open access and hosted on the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) site. Bill’s summary of the book on his blog sounds terrific. Can’t wait to read it and use it in my classes.
It was nice to see the Zotero project covered on the front page of the Washington Post yesterday in the article “Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes.” Also nice to see a quotation at the end of the article from yours truly about the movement in higher ed toward open tools and resources.
Thanks to everyone for their helpful (and thankfully, mostly positive) feedback on the new Zotero-IA alliance. I wanted to try to clear up a couple of things that the press coverage and my own writing failed to communicate. (Note to self: finally get around to going to one of those media training courses so I can learn how to communicate all of the elements of a complex project well in three minutes, rather than lapsing into my natural academic long-windedness.)
1. Zotero + IA is not simply the Zotero Commons
Again, this is probably my fault for not communicating the breadth of the project better. The press has focused on items #1 and 2 in my original post—they are the easiest to explain—but while the project does indeed try to aggregate scholarly resources, it is also trying to solve another major problem with contemporary scholarship: scholars are increasingly using and citing web resources but have no easy way to point to stable URLs and cached web pages. In particular, I encourage everyone to read item #3 in my original post again, since I consider it extremely important to the project.
Items #4 and 5 also note that we are going to leverage IA for better collaboration, discovery, and recommendation systems. So yes, the Commons, but much more too.
2. Zotero + IA is not intended to put institutional repositories out of business, nor are they excluded from participation
There has been some hand-wringing in the library blogosphere this week (see, e.g., Library 2.0) that this project makes an end-run around institutional repositories. These worries were probably exacerbated by the initial press coverage that spoke of “bypassing” the libraries. However, I want to emphasize that this project does not make IA the exclusive back end for contributions. Indeed, I am aware of several libraries that are already experimenting with using Zotero as an input device for institutional repositories. There is already an API for the Zotero client that libraries can extract data and files from, and the server will have an even more powerful API so that libraries can (with their users’ permission, of course) save materials into an archive of their own.